philosopher's stone

"Harvesting The Moon"

philosopher's stone

Harvesting The Moon

A photographic journey during the harvest moon
In the waning glow of the setting sun, with photographic gear in tow, we take a journey to the top of Near Trapps via the Millbrook Ridge Trail, to face east over the cliffs, toward the rising Harvest Moon.

The Millbrook Ridge Trail, only a few paces from the south end of Trapps Bridge, is immediately, but not unnecessarily aggressive in its incline. The relatively short Near Trapps ascent is both interesting and challenging by virtue of conglomerate platforms sliding across the footpath with abrupt disjointed edges and tenacious pitch-pine roots.

The path is not so much thereby revealed and demarcated by its surrounding contours as it is confronted— confronted by oblique blocks, fractures, and conglomerate platforms that converge to drop a rugged terrain underfoot. In contrast to the more massive but blind power that our thighs and buttocks normally push forth to address a steep incline, the trail calls for a physical response concentrated below the knees. Freedom at the ankles must be restricted by a combination of stabilizing joint structures and reactive vision. If the connective apparatus is not stabilized with this controlled tension, the trek is sure to end in injury. Angular rocks, clumsy steps, and misplaced roots rapidly give way to steeply inclined glacier-polished conglomerate, where the body’s tension continues to concentrate downward until it gives itself entirely to the friction of footwear. Treading is disclosed through either fortitude or failure. There are few shades of gray between fortitude and failure— either your grip is up to the task and your pace remains somewhat automatic— or you slip. If your tread fails, you proceed in an overly conscious manner. Despite the challenge, motivation pulls you forward as the intervening terrain works as a kind of guidewire for deliberation. If footwear had been considered unimportant, the condition can be witnessed in a striking fashion as individuals are observed descending back down the blue-blazed Millbrook Ridge Trail that we ascend. The challenge is written in their concentrated conformation, their downward gaze, and the overly cautious pace of their descent. Still, however, the internal countenance of those same individuals often basks not in frustration or fear, but in the afterglow of a unique Gunks outing.

As introduced in Philosopher’s Stone, the warped and tilted nature of the exposed conglomerate is the byproduct of a series of dramatic ancient mountain building episodes, but the abstract drama of geological events has left a palpably direct experience that is still offered to us today.

As we ascend the tilted conglomerate strata and gain contact with it, we engage a direct experience with ancient events whose residue is still with us. We may imagine, therefore, not only a solid connection to abstract principles that speak of incredible geological drama, but the sheer facticity of our ranging upon the remnants of that activity grants to that past a reality far more solid in the literal sense of the term, then the seemingly abstract timeframe of geology. Even as we perceptually range upon the terrain, we know. We know that these geological events occurred in the nearly timeless past— and so geologic time, through the rock itself, begins to transform its state from a mere harbinger of past events, to a congealed latency of real time: enduring time— hardened, harboring, re-enacting lived time as we engage its solidity. We no longer simply think duration as conceptual time— as a mere signifier or signpost of a possible experiences as if we were present at various intervals— instead, we directly perceive the kind of enduring for which we now lie at the leading edge of its extended momentum. The rock will endure, but right now it pushes back against our moving mass not just with supporting solidity, but with a kind of capped hardness sealed over that gritty solidity. It’s all right there, not in the abstract thought, but in the contact with the intriguing angular slabs of conglomerate that are enduring in the active sense of the term. The rock’s mass acts counter to our own particular equilibrium of forces pushing against it for stable movement. It requires us, with secret knowledge, to align ourselves with its time. Just yesterday, mile-high glaciers polished up, scared, and ‘chattered up’ its surface. We know that, even as we work to navigate a trail that often banks in the opposite pitch to our slow arcing ascent, making us overcompensate the banking to seek a more comfortable equilibrium. We unconsciously lean to counter its lean. Always there is a two-sided dialogue in the tension of friction.

The trail remains tucked between the open conglomerate and pitch pine thickets that drop off into mysterious shadows. The drop imparts a trajectory that increasingly seeks to pull us off the trail to the south, where broader platforms of exposed conglomerate advertise themselves as more welcoming. Out there, on the open rock, there is no blurred border in the same manner that we now feel as we ascend adjacent to a nondescript pocket of shadows whose volume suggests depth.
The trail’s blue blazing remains at the ready to keep us inline nonetheless. Without the markings, we are sure to migrate toward the open rock surfaces, where we are led, like Frodo and his companions, further and further off the main trail. It feels too right over there. The light conglomerate simply glows its expansive grounding, and the twisted forms of dwarfed pines reach their natural state of bonsai refinement upon it. Every form appears as if placed upon an independent surface in a sculptured radius around, providing room and respite for the senses, even while disclosing the next island of hardy refinement to migrate toward. This occurs in all phases of lighting, but it is particularly evident when the light is waning and the shadows are not yet deep enough to swallow the environment in a seemingly global night.

In the Gunks, even twilight remains aglow in both air and rock, for the broad conglomerate has its own means to re-radiate the luminance it has absorbed throughout the day— though no scientific apparatus can detect that subtle luminance to the same degree that we simply feel. For good reason, we must stay true to the trail’s course. It is all too easy to misjudge our trajectory to the top. More importantly, we are in a high traffic area of the ridge, and it is imperative that we think not of our own comfort, but of the well-being of this unique ecosystem.


It is only a few hundred paces to crest the back side of Near Trapps. A series of compelling but false summits provide intrigue before our first destination is reached. In many Gunks’ journeys, the goal may appear to be a decisive summit, but what is granted is often far more interesting to experience, though less interesting to attempt to photograph or capture visually. Even at the edge of many cliffs, the Gunks often retain their capacity to thrust into the vicinity a welcome locale to anchor the body as vision continues its journey of projecting into the distant horizon. But no optical lens can match the attentive human perceptual apparatus and its capacity to apprehend the local and the distal environment at the same time. To be sure, there are many iconic vantages that are photographed or filmed from the Gunks. This series, of course, provides a large volume of accompanying images. But images are a different thing altogether than a ‘capture’ or ‘copy’ of sensation. Even sensation is an active and constructive process— a selective transduction— and not merely the recovery or shunting of a distal reality said to be complete prior to streaming through the open portals of the senses.

Photography is not, therefore, a second-order recording of that sensation, just as that sensation is not a second-order recording of that reality. It is a novel project— a new process of apprehension with its own defining characteristics, though capable of bringing us back referentially to the visual component of our experience with high fidelity, or invoking a new experience; one that is independent of the original momentum of real duration that sense perception takes part in enacting on our behalf. As modern perceptual neuroscience has disclosed, the organic visual apparatus does not simply record or detect distal wavelengths, though that is a quite popular and ‘techy’ interpretation. Instead, through infusion with the other sensory and motor processes, perception is the achievement that assists in the selective stabilization of primary attributes— of objects and environments capable of being attended in a decidedly human experience of relevance. Objects are not merely ‘detected’ complete— they are brought to fruition as embedded features of situations. Even as their non-conscious precursor elements guide perceptual construction by means of distal patterning, all is relationally contextual— all is selectively taken up in a human style of momentum that is stabilized by relevance. These novel, but naïve and buried roots of experience sometimes require the advent of a heightened sense of agency through which we assert ourselves when volition and choice are required and attention is deployed. But in the end, there is no secondary ‘capture’ going on— we attend to a subset of what our bodies have already selectively and pre-consciously assisted in stabilizing as a completed perceptual situation. That situation has an open-ended momentum addressed to novel actions in select cases— precisely those we deem conscious.

Sensation and the photographic image thus share one characteristic in common: they each are the renewed inflexion or emphasis-points— a new set of momentum-building starting-points for perception— not the ‘original datum’ that must be copied for a tacit witness. Primary perceptual processes cycle onward into the rich unfolding of novel situations, even when purely functional or pragmatic. That cycling is more akin to tapping into a reservoir of energy and potential than it is a wholesale reproduction.
And so it is that the first series of compelling summits that we come to upon Near Trapps delivers a set of beautiful vantages that compile together a nearly 360-degree arc to experience. This is Hawk’s Watch, and we arrived here just after a series of leftward adjustments in the trail. As we have suggested, our cameras and smartphones— our second-order devices said to capture a slice of that visual experience, instead, insert themselves not as adequate or inadequate copies of that experience, but as material to perceive anew. Images are appendages and postscripts to the experience— though sometimes we bring our gear with the hope that that footnote will be powerful enough to reveal a novel life of its own. But even for the photographer, the image is never an extracted slice of the real experiential stream. It is a parallel acquisition capable of invoking a new journey for the senses and the intellect alike. The two are always fused by the feeling-based core of our existence. It is that very core that organizes the relevance of the perceptual situation.

We have now a better context with regard to our true goal. Even though our objective is purportedly to reach the abrupt and most impressive cliff facing eastward toward the broad Wallkill Valley this close to The Trapps so that we may photograph the rising Harvest Moon over the distant Plattekill Mountain hills, our first views of the landscape have opened up with a surprise disclosure of eastern, northern and western features to remind us of how foreign our image captures are relative to the real horizon of experience. To the north, we experience the rolling blue volume of the Catskill Mountains as they cajole a soft, bubbly disposition even though they rise over twice the height of the Gunks in select places, and harbor steep ravines, such as those near the Devil’s Path, which can be glimpsed from our vantage. From here, the Catskills are evident precisely because they lie adjacent to the seemingly abrupt Shawangunk ridge system— specifically, The Trapps, and further to the north, Mohonk’s Sky Top ridge and tower, as well as Clove Valley with the Coxing Kill stream running longitudinally away from us, parallel to the sloping western flank of The Trapps. We apprehend the local and distant features at once, for they define each other in a kind of visual balance. From here, The Trapps remain intimate, prominent and local in relation to the Near Trapps upon which we stand. But the ridge is now an ‘other’ that we must take in visually. It is a distal feature that is not seamlessly connected to the very same ground that we range upon. There is an aggressive gap, a wide-plunging fault that lies between. And that fault has a rich history as an entry way cutting across the Gunks main spine. Today, we see the topography fall away into the gap between the Near Trapps and The Trapps, with Route 44-55 snaking its way in between, arising from the broad fertile Wallkill Valley below.


Before Route 44-55 was built in the late 1920’s, in 1856 the New Paltz- Warwarsing Turnpike began to connect the mountain hamlet of Trapps to the surrounding Rondout and Wallkill valleys. Already by the late 1700’s Coxing Clove, or Clove Valley, was cleared for subsistence farming, with grazing cattle and sheep, and the production of a variety of grains and herbs. Timber cutting, maple syrup gathering, hemlock stripping, barrel hoop-making, berry picking, charcoal production, tannin production, and the quarrying and crafting of so-called ‘Esopus Stone’ millstones renders only a partial list of the labor required to subsist in the tiny mountain hamlet throughout its early history. With the ambitious Delaware & Hudson (D&H) Canal completed a quarter century prior and already laden with goods making their way to the Hudson River via Kingston on the western side of the ridge, the turnpike— along with logging roads and the precursors to the Smiley carriage roads— formed a principle artery connecting the ridge’s network of passages for the sparse Ridge inhabitants to engage in commerce with the valleys below. They, in turn, established robust exchanges with major metropolitan centers like New York City. This was a time of hardy semi-autonomous living. However, the subsequent post-Civil War years saw many Ridge inhabitants head West as the eastern United States, including the Gunks and its surrounding valleys, became rapidly depleted of timber and tannin resources.

For example, Jeffrey Perls informs us in his indispensable Shawangunk Trail Companion that in the year 1840, New York State was the nation’s number one timber producer, but by 1870— a mere thirty years later— the state had to import timber to keep pace with its voracious appetite for building, furniture-making, fuel and other usages. Soon after, the region’s hemlocks took the brunt of the march toward industry primarily because they were a principle source of the tannins used for the processing of leather goods; and new hemlock saplings were employed in barrel-making as hoops.
By the time the Smiley brothers started purchasing Shawangunk Ridge land, they did so at great bargain due to this state of affairs. Some Trapps inhabitants were employed to assist the Smiley’s effort at building their extensive carriage roads, or at the grand mountain hotels themselves. Many others had decided to head West for better prospects. The new Romantic era valuation of ‘scenic’ nature by which the Smiley family sought to operate should be placed in a context of contrast, namely, the increasing barrenness and depletion of not only the surrounding landscape, but even much of the Ridge itself at the time. Archival photographs that show the development of Mohonk and Minnewaska— as well as construction of the network of intervening carriage roads— reveal a much balder mountain topography relative to today, with the exception of the ever-present and unique pitch pine trees and a sparse dispersion of other hardy species.

And so it was that the Smiley family successfully stewarded the safe succession and recovery of mixed deciduous forests to the region over the many decades that followed. We have here also a rich historic clue that the Gunks’ topography— with its unique conglomerate bedding fostering a purchase on life for only the hardiest ridge-adapted dwarf pines, berries, and shrubs— presented more than enough scenic beauty on its own to pull the leisure class out of New York City and into the railways and carriages that made their way to the region.

Hawk’s Watch on Near Trapps somehow still provides hint to that structurally-based beauty. It is form and volume, not color or texture that is the secret magic to this region. Of course, the region is by no means devoid of color and atmosphere— particularly this time of year— but it is not dependent upon a rich carpeting or a moody sky to exhibit its aesthetic qualities. In fact, that is precisely its odd magic— for that covering is often idiosyncratic. It is nearly a formula. Nonetheless, the presence of pitch pine, mountain laurel and huckleberries upon a near white gem-like conglomerate surface never becomes boring.

There are always transitions; and today, those transitions include not only sculptural breaks in rock, but a diverse forest of mixed trees and shrubs in places that the conglomerate gives way to the underlying Martinsburg shale and its capacity to sustain a more fertile soil after erosion. We can see those transitions. We see also the Catskill Mountains and the collapsed distance of the broad Rondout plain between the Shawangunk Mountains and the Catskills. We see the intervening plain and distant mountains as another set of features that appear to cling to and rise out of Clove Valley as we look northwest. A glimpse due west toward the soon-to-be setting sun leads us to the nearly seamless cliffs of Dickie Barre, Lost City, Ronde Barre, and Rock Hill running longitudinally below a golden skyline to guide our vision north toward the Catskill Mountains. The Catskills, in turn, top the sweeping ravine of Clove Valley with their rolling boil and lead the eye with soft blue hues to the deep greens of the abruptly rising Trapps, with its white-gray blocks peeking through, and Sky Top poking its shoulders above the cliffs. Here, our close proximity to the abruptly rising Trapps may remind us of its climbing minions— particularly by virtue of the glimpse that we are provided of Undercliff Carriageway as it sweeps below a region of exposed Martinsburg shale with the massive and broken conglomerate upon it. The sweeping carriage trail mirrors the snake-like twists of Route 44-55 below it— just enough to lead our eye downward from the massively truncated Trapps cliffs toward the broad Wallkill Valley beyond. We visually enter that ‘beyond’, for we have been led to it from the orientation of the Trapps cliffs in a seamless fashion. And that is appropriate, for it is the direction we are headed.

Soon after Hawk’s Watch the trail courses to the right through mountain laurel and a hedging of pitch pines to reach the apex of the Near Trapps. Our awareness condenses eastward toward the massive drop into the Wallkill Valley. After a short run to the right, the trail is displaced a few feet as it steps off the conglomerate mass with the assistance of a pair of sentinel pines escorting our rapid drop into a thinly populated forest. This environment has its presentation for less than a minute— just enough to provide a feeling for the forest, before climbing back onto bare rock. We are afforded a few more north facing views of The Trapps cliffs before the trail sweeps to the right to follow the southwest trajectory of Millbrook Ridge Trail at the edge of the cliffline. Two or three short excursions closer to the cliffs provide northern views of The Trapps and Route 44-55 as it winds below to intersect Route 299 near the Mountain Brauhaus restaurant and bar. The intersection and twisting turns of Route 44-55 are busy with the glow of traffic passing over the mountains this time of the evening.

Moon Landing

We began our journey just before the setting sun, with time enough to reach our perch in preparation for the rising Harvest Moon on the opposite side of the world. It is here that the magic begins afresh. Just as the trail turns away from the edge and rises slightly before plunging into the huckleberries, shrubs, and a tentatively mixed forest, we detour a few steps onto what appears to be a well-trodden side trail flaring out.

The short path is open and with a few paces it leads to a stone outcrop with a pitch pine at the edge overlooking the broad Wallkill Valley. The pine has adjusted its orientation to face back toward the prominent eastern edge of The Trapps. The earth slopes to greet this outcrop adjacent to the tree, but before abruptly plunging hundreds of feet over the sheer cliff, it offers, tucked to the left of the stone outcrop, a terraced landing sloping gently to establish a welcome but still dangerous platform for tripod, knapsack and thirsty traveler. During the pre-dawn hours this sparsely grassed plot provides a great place to witness the rising sun, although it is decidedly dangerous for early morning clumsiness. Earlier in the year, when the sun rises at a more northward locale on the horizon relative to our arrival, The Trapps touchdown at a point to welcome the sun’s emergence. At the time, one often discovers a slow dispersal of fog that creeps over the majestic cliffs in the dawning light. The broad Wallkill Valley is filled with a similar fog during many a morning, but when spied from the landing, the fog appears to have a life of its own. It starts out as a thick blanketing mass, almost a giant living mass that is animated by weather patterns of its own internal generation. The large gray mass moves at first as a single presence in transition. Rapidly, it gives way to a medium of atmospherics— displaying glowing hints of the soon-to-be rising sun as it blends warm tones into its underbelly. Then, with the rising sun itself, it becomes sheer translucence in places— a whispering curtain partaking of an immanent happening. But even then, with its variable lifespan, dense, opaque flows remain dispersed within it. After more time for clearing, it becomes evident to the viewer that the remaining dense flows correspond to the course of the Wallkill River in the near distance, and the Hudson River further beyond. Meanwhile, as the sun rises, the pitch pine hanging over the cliff at the edge of the conglomerate outcrop remains in the perfect position to greet the warm glow of the sun on its face.

This all takes place, of course, during a different hour of magic than the one we now prepare for as we sit in the same plot at the end of the day waiting for the Harvest Moon to rise and follow the same arc. We prepare for a different display altogether. And just before the salient moment, the deepening blue sky remains at a balancing point. It feels sustained in deep blue luminance— full of volume, anticipating, but not disclosing the point of emergence. Then, without fanfare or the slightest advanced notice, the yellow-orange moon begins to silently slip upward from beyond the distant Plattekill hills, over Illinois Mountain, with its communications towers blinking responsibly but completely independent of the happening. Just to the left of the blinking towers the moon creeps upward almost secretly at first, for the sky has not had time enough to deepen into a night that is worthy of its reception. When it has emerged full and characteristically orange-yellow, it’s presence is certainly prominent next to the horizon, but still it appears initially to be just another handsome feature in a structurally handsome landscape. Shortly, however, very shortly after it establishes a slight gap from the horizon, it asserts its form as an independent glowing body. The sky deepens in response. It is only a matter of minutes, perhaps seconds, before it’s glowing and growing presence pulls the gravity of consciousness toward it almost exclusively. What was just a wide arcing landscape filling almost half of the horizon only a few seconds prior, is rapidly repositioned on the side of the observer, to extend our chest and shoulders, so to speak— as both the observer and the land now partake of the same attentiveness to the moon’s ever-building presence. It has transformed from a feature of the landscape to the most condensed and potent power of the landscape, as the landscape drops out into a voluminous darkness.
There is no recording of this presence possible. Though we may generate a few photographs as visual reminders, images will not harbor that primary power of experience, even when our instrumentation gathers more detail than our eyes can resolve. By comparison, the image will always remain flat, no matter how spatial we play the game of virtually projecting ourselves into it. Beneath the rising moon, Route 44-55 is busy with a trail of glowing headlights passing over the ridge. Somewhere in the winding twists of the same Route and behind us, deeper into the interior of the Gunks, vehicles will crest a hill to be greeted by this abrupt presence with power enough to pull from the occupants an audible gasp and the mouthing of that simple word: “moon”.

Yes. The moon. Obvious— nearly prosaic to thought, but never to experience— at least not when the conditions are right. The rising moon is always poetic when truly received— not by virtue of romantic thoughts, but by virtue of its sheer and simple presence. It is the myth-maker par excellence. And sadly, there are billions of individuals who seldom experience it, on its terms. We often reference the moon as a ‘she’, for she is patient, though swift. She rises and inflates, not so much in splendor, but in that simple and effective potency of ‘presence’ that we keep coming back to in these essays. Just below her, the train of vehicles flows over the ridge. A large gathering of climbers and hikers have made their way to The Mountain Brauhaus at the intersection of Routes 299 and 44-55. After all, the Harvest Moon has risen on a Friday night this year. From our little plot of sloping land snuggled on the cliff like a lumpy magic carpet, we travel the horizon to witness it all like a hidden dreamer dreaming the busy landscape in a vicarious act— a voyeurism without the sex appeal. We remain an integral feature of the voluminous darkness as it too partakes of witnessing, for it is now on our side of the dipole as a subject engaged in an object.


After lingering to soak in the rising moon, we gather our gear and head southwest on the trail, with the moon hanging low behind our left shoulder. Daylight journeys are self-evident for the senses, but twilight journeys require either full adaptation to the low lighting at foot level, or commitment to the cone of light provided by a flashlight. Traveling by flashlight provides a heightened adventure for the motor-infused senses, but movement should not be taken for granted in this terrain. The flashlight takes over the role of progenitor of our world the moment that we dip into the huckleberry, mountain laurel and lightly forested terrain. The moon is not yet high enough to provide more than a constant allure and a sublime and mysterious, if not cheery disposition to our mood. It has yet to penetrate the thickets.

The trail ducks in and out, and then mostly into the forest with rock outcroppings that take over its meandering course. Even the slightest moment of unresolved lighting at the feet is wrought with danger as our gait believes the false relief and plods forward in full confidence despite the shadow play of rough terrain. If we’re lucky, this misplaced confidence will be at best only reprimanded by stabs and strains from off-planted feet and knees, thus pulling us back into deliberative attention should we begin to get lazy with the flashlight. The moon is a constant allure, even a distraction. It is wiser to simply stop and soak in the rising moon through the branches, as opposed to glimpsing it on the march. And so we do, multiple times. We adhere to the blue-marked trail, which is no small feat in the cone of the flashlight, even though it is much brighter on this night than on most other nights. Every blazed turn marked on the rock must be acknowledged, otherwise we discover ourselves standing amidst huckleberry thickets with no clear path in sight. Retracing our steps is a constant project for the first part of our journey away from the horizon and into the sparse forest, but the moon increasingly imparts its light in subtle ways. We move slow and stop often. Over time the path moves deeper into the woods and jags back after a modest saddle with views of Millbrook Mountain rising high as a massive dark feature with a sheer vertical rise of more than 500 feet above its base in the Wallkill Valley below.
We continue to wind slowly inland and southwest with the trail as the luminance begins to gather. Eventually, over the long span of bumbling time, the path descends into a depression, with a moister, cooler feeling to the air, and hemlock and black gum trees dispersed in a mixed forest. In a few weeks, this area will be ablaze with the intense reds of blueberry bushes and gum trees in autumn, but for now it opens the trail into a highly welcomed transition. The open forest feeling that pulls the trail into its spreading oasis is welcome. The glade is fully illuminated by the moon. There is normally a homey feeling projected here, even on a harshly lit summer afternoon— but tonight the plot is simply sacred in its sublime beauty. The region’s huckleberry and wild blueberry understory combines with standing dead trees, fallen, debarked trunks, and lichen-covered bark to welcome a small party of erratic boulders— each of which takes on a shimmering, self-luminous quality, though lichen and moss attempt to disguise the glow. Every object is properly dispersed in a fortunate and open arrangement to receive the mysterious mother light. The only other time that one can feel such a strange, almost shimmering self-luminant quality from objects in the environment is during the attenuated light of an eclipse. It is easy to see, or rather, to feel directly how such transitory moments take on the status of significance, or sacred spaces, to a consciousness fully submerged in the environment.

Moonlight offers a tentative reality compared to the sun’s everyday world. Light and shadow are free to dance upon the earth without imperative to conform to its contours. By virtue of that freedom, it casts an unreal world. Sunlight does not possess such freedom. So bound to the texture and form of the objects that it discloses, the sun’s light is captured as an embedded feature of their reality at the very same time that it discloses them. Abandoning its freedom to that of the visible, sunlight gains concrete submersion into the physicality of all that it makes evident. Color and texture are loaned qualities from that borrowed existence. By contrast, moonlight is not reduced to the function of disclosing objects. It hovers in the renewed agency of a vibrating world— a world enacted and balanced between existence as sheer luminance and existence as illuminant thing. It is at once substance and freedom. It is at once function and object. The glowing body of the moon reminds us of that mysterious balance when we lift our eyes in this moonlit glade to greet the source of the shimmering beauty it casts before us. Normally, the sun receives no such inferential interest, except during the magic hours of sunrise and sunset. But alas, the sun’s world must be self-evident, in the same manner that perception itself cannot be properly questioned, even when we have secretly glimpsed that its power are active and constructive.


Once this magic is truly experienced, we are released from the desire to capture it. Even if we only abandon ourselves to metaphor and poetry, it becomes easier to intuit the false dichotomy set up between science and myth. Each are appropriate movements of the human power of experiencing our world. Myth is not a premature or primitive attempt at science, as is so often stated. In this very same depression, under a very similar moon, we can understand how a Native American hunting party might extend their notion of spirituality to a multitude of significant objects, and particularly to those with the quality of ‘presence’ that we will so often describe in these essays. In this very same depression, under a very similar moon, we can understand how a Paleo hunting party following caribou, mammoth or mastodon— though addressing themselves to a post-glacial tundra and boreal forest— might also experience that world of animated forces, signs, and significance, and even the environment itself, as a singular heightened vessel of experience, in which the same magical moon would appear with regularity for an awareness that did not fully separate from it. In this very same region prior to the uplifting forces acting upon the newly congealed conglomerate bedrock — a time when the moon’s distance was closer than it is today as it slowly spirals away from the earth — the day itself was slightly shorter, and every circadian influence upon every organism was already set to be synchronized dynamically with a formative structuring for so many coupled organic exchanges with the environment ever since.
Collectively, these sediments have polished the forms and behaviors of those organisms into existence; in the same way that those rhythmic exchanges have polished many of our own qualities into manifestation by means of a different dance, a different coupling and transformation of distal physics. That physics has latent qualities and potentialities that we simply cannot know from our single-vantaged perspectives, though a portion of those depths have long been sedimented into a certain style that we recognize as the ancient journey of life, of which we are an integral part. In this very same region in the very distant future, will we continue to push ourselves further and further from that root base and further and further into the virtual constructs that we create— the ‘as-if’ domain that imparts both the power and the separation of our conceptual lives? Will we only blindly take up that trajectory by inserting an artificial medium of ‘sensation’ and rely on the parameters of rule-based intelligent systems to dictate the domain of human perceptual experience because they are thought to align with our schematic, if not malnourished notions for what it means to sense?

The moon. It is she that prods us to ask such profound things— for it is her fundamental way not to disclose, but to provide a secret glimpse of a realm that overflows the self-evident senses. She offers a transient gift, an unveiling— a direct affirmation of that “more” that we always sense as the precursor to all seeking. And that is why we really journeyed on this night— not to ‘capture’, but to receive.


After lingering in the open glade for some time  and granted new sight, we return the same way that we arrived. Normally, for our daylight trek, we’d make a different return loop after climbing up the rugged Millbrook Mountain, with its corridor-like passage offerings, and its many false summits— some north facing, some south facing, some all-facing, but each bold and exposed— sharing its pre-eminence with thermal-riding raptors amidst the sweeping contours of the land. We would descend back the Millbrook Mountain Trail only a short distance until it greeted the picturesque Coxing Trail to the right, with its views of Mohonk in the distance offered between park-like framing trees with boulders and a hardy lushness as the path descends amidst wild blueberries to dip from a region of stark beauty to parallel the Coxing Kill stream. Abundant hemlocks respiring a moisture-laden air would welcome an extensive forest of ferns slowly waving their fronds to also welcome us through their cozy footpath. The Coxing Trail would dump us, exhausted with accomplishment, onto the Trapps Road Carriageway from which we began our journey. Indeed, that loop is one of the main reasons to set off from the Millbrook Ridge Trail, as we have at the outset of this journey. But tonight we’ve experienced a different journey. We’ve undergone a transformation through a ritual bathing in moonlight— and the ritual requires return along the same path of our arrival, so that the transformation may be complete.

The exposed Wallkill Valley attends to its Friday bounty under the moon. There is a strange quietness to the air and the land below. The exposed conglomerate cliffs that we range upon seem to have been coated with a waxy finish— a luminance that now retains the very same balance between inner-luminance and reflecting objects that we encountered in the moonlit glade. Without the harshness that the midday sun provides, the rock formations now reflect their sheen, but still we feel the inner luminance that attests to their status as ‘presence’. The difference is, presence has now been imparted to the entire landscape itself, and not merely to any particular features within it. And therein lies the great difference of our transformation. Through the touch of moonlight, all has been granted internal life, though we know that to be a projection of our own internal life— or so at least we believe. Perhaps we do not truly believe that we have opened up to an inner portal of nature, but nor do we deny that we experience a tiny sliver of what we cannot access in full abundance— a sense of kinship with that abundance that remains inaccessible to the loose, schematic blueprint of rational thought. We are not really irrational in such moments; we are simply perceptual.
The links below access the online adapted version of the book and do not correspond to the order published in the physical booklet. Only a few master copies of the book remain (published 2018), so this set constitutes the original impetus of the work in a different order. In the physical book, the essay "Intimate Otherness" (below) introduced the Gunks through Mohonk Mountain House, the historical introductory anchor to the region. Don't forget to check out related Gunks landscapes (on istockphoto by Getty Images).


a phenomenological essay series

The Philosopher's Stone

Enter Archives

Contact Charles

Contact Charles for archival print pricing, commercial art commissions, individual tutorial sessions, or purchase of high-resolution files.

Contact Form